You know, there was a time where I believed we’d always have to deal with superhero movies being fundamentally different than the comic books. Where we’d never get the big, multiple-property-spanning continuity that makes superhero comics so appealing to me.
Then there was the post-credit teaser in Iron man. 11 years, 21 movies, and over 18 billion dollars late, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is indisputably the largest movie franchise in history, and I could not be happier. I’m an unabashed fan of all this superhero, and the Marvel Age of cinema is a godsend for me.
To celebrate the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, here are my quick thoughts on every Marvel movie. I’m not doing a ranking of them because so many are near impossible to choose between, just chronological order and my opinion.
The movie that started it all, Iron Man has been overshadowed by the franchise it spawned. Make no mistake though, Iron Man is still a solid movie in its own right and holds up to this day. Which shouldn’t be surprising – if the movie hadn’t been a good movie, it wouldn’t have been able to form the bedrock of the entire Marvel universe. To see what happens when a bad movie tries to start a franchise, look no further than 2018’s The Mummy, or Green Lantern, or Man of Steel, or…nope, not going to further.
The Incredible Hulk
This movie isn’t nearly as well remembered as the rest of Phase 1, and I’ll admit it does have some flaws. The movie spends too long trying to hide the Hulk like he’s jaws, the antagonist is underdeveloped even for a phase one Marvel film, and the second act is bloated. That being said, it’s nowhere near as bad as modern day commentators say, and the two big action set pieces deliver some phenomenal fight sequences. Plus, getting to hear the Hulk say “Hulk Smash” on the big screen made my inner 5-year-old leap in joy.
Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2 didn’t live up to the original movie. Let’s get that out of the way first. But it still has its charms. It introduced Black Widow, it put Rhodes in the War Machine suit, it touched on Tony’s alcoholism without going into grimdark territory, Justin Hammer was a ton of fun as an antagonist and a nice balance to the mence that was Whiplash. That being said…yeah, act 2 did drag on hardcore, and the final fight didn’t have the same impact as most MCU battles.
The first Thor movie is a real trip. The combination of operatic Viking mythology being mixed with space opera is the kind of thing that we haven’t really seen much of since the 70’s. It introduced the world to Chris Hemsworth’s gloriously cocksure version of Thor and his biceps and his abs, which is great for everyone. It also gave us Loki, a character who would hold the title of the best antagonist in the MCU for quite some time. Thor also is where we first got hints of what Marvel’s big plan was, and while it was still a way away from us getting the full scope of things, it was nice to be certain things were going to come together.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America got a lot of reviews saying it was “just an Avengers prologue” when it came out, but I think that really did the movie a disservice. We got to see a man wrapped in the American flag punch skull-faced Nazis in their skull face, and it established Chris Evan’s Steve Rogers as exactly how you should handle a “too good to be true” hero – by allowing him to be exactly the inspirational figure he should be.
It’s weird to think of now, but at the time The Avengers seemed like a huge risk. No one had tried anything like this, certainly not on the scale of this film. The Avengers dared to mash together the following characters: a rage monster born out of the sci-fi of the 30’s, a literal Norse god, a high-tech hero in a metal suit, a larger than life WWII legend, a super-spy with gadgets that would make Bond jealous, and a guy who uses a bow and arrows in defiance of all logic.
It worked so well it redefined the movie landscape virtually overnight. Suddenly every studio and their brother was trying to come up with their own answer to The Avengers, a feat none of them have managed yet because they forget that part of what made this movie so good was the five films of build up that let us get comfortable with these characters so we could enjoy them playing off each other, while at the same time delivering a movie that stands up on its own merit. Great film, period, and solidified Marvel’s place in the pop culture canon.
Iron Man 3
A lot of people liked this movie when it came out. I wasn’t one of them. The twist halfway through could have been interesting, if they had a good idea to replace the Mandarin with. Instead, what they had was some jokes and a fairly weak bad guy, as well as completely tossing aside the potential of AIM as villains. Let’s do like the rest of the MCU has done and pretend this movie didn’t happen.
Thor: The Dark World
Here I’m the opposite of most people. I loved Thor: The Dark World. It was the next level of the fun promised by the space-Vikings premise of the first movie, adding space elves to the mix. The character elements were a bit weaker here, I’ll freely admit, but overall it was a fun time. I’ll freely admit though that, by the end of this movie, I was as bored of Thor and Jane as a couple as the rest of this franchise seems to be. Can we get Darcy back though? It’s not like Kat Dennings has done much since Two Broke Girls ended.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
This movie, more than anything else, shows the full potential of the MCU. Up until this point, most of the MCU movies were firmly “Superhero” movies – origin stories, character development, and alien invasions. Winter Soldier, however, was essentially a spy thriller, but instead of the usual super slick super-spy, they made the primary protagonist Captain Freakin’ America. Seriously, tell me you can’t see Brosnan-era James Bond going through the exact same basic plot. But adding some superhero trappings freshened up a new formula, and throwing Captain America into the middle of this complicated web of deceit was a delight. One of my favorite movies of all time.
Guardians of the Galaxy
After Avengers, it was hard to imagine anything the MCU did as being ‘risky.’ Yet here they were, making a movie where two of the primary characters are a talking raccoon and a tree that can only speak three words, set entirely in space, and dealing with the most concentrated Marvel weirdness we’d ever get – even more than the Thor films. Guardians of the Galaxy took all those strange ideas and instead of being self-conscious about it, absolutely owned how weird it was, while still telling an incredibly compelling story with some great characters.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
I think that, from a purely technical standpoint, Age of Ultron might be a better movie than Avengers. The story is a bit tighter, barring Thor going off to watch a teaser for Thor 3, and the character drama is a bit more compelling since there’s the weight of these people all being closer friends at this point. However, movies aren’t just built on their technical aspects, and some parts of Age of Ultron didn’t quite click for me.
Ultron was a fun villain but underdeveloped – and this was the point where Marvel’s habit of under developing its villains was starting to wear thin with me – and the stakes being raised to “planetary annihilation” felt like a cheap way to up the scale. It was a damn good movie, don’t get me wrong, but wasn’t quite the successor to The Avengers we were hoping for.
Also, this was the movie where Joss Whedon’s flaws started to show the most strongly. The plot element about Black Widow is something I railed on before, the romance between her and Bruce felt forced and kinda creepy given that their only on-screen interactions in The Avengers had featured her being terrified of him, and there’s one point at an ostensibly dramatic moment where the film pauses itself to give us a slow-mo run worthy of Baywatch.
All that being said, goddamn the Hulkbuster fight was awesome, Elizabeth Olsen did an amazing job with Wanda Maximoff, and it was a delight watching James Spader chew the scenery as Ultron. I’ve always had a soft spot for bad guys that grab the landscape and start taking bites, and Ultron was one of the best.
You know, in any other studio, the production history of Ant-Man would have doomed it for disaster. Even then, the core idea of bringing notoriously abusive character Hank Pym to live on the big screen was worrying. But Marvel delivered a fun, lighthearted romp that took full advantage of Paul Rudd’s comedic timing and solved the Hank Pym problem by going with the second Ant-Man, Scott Lang.
I do wish this movie had done more with Hope though, and not just because Evangeline Lilly is awesome and should be in everything. The ongoing meta-commentary of her character, that Hope is infinitely better suited to this than Scott Lang and by extension how women are often overlooked, was a bit grating given that Marvel was now ending their second full phase and still hadn’t found a leading role for a woman. Also, Yellowjacket could not have been a more boring villain if they had tried, a retread of Iron Monger from the first Iron Man only without the personal connection to the hero to give it some kind of emotional payoff.
Captain America: Civil War
I. Love. Civil. War. It’s the first film to really take advantage of the MCU’s omnipresence in the popular culture by delivering a movie that could not make sense without having seen Winter Soldier, The Avengers, Age of Ultron, and if you had seen those movies you’d need to have also seen The Dark World to understand why Thor wasn’t around and would have wanted to see the other standalone films because this movie relies on you knowing these characters. It felt like the mid-season break two-parter of a TV show blown up to feature length film and polished to a shine, while also delivering a satisfying resolution to the dangling threads of Winter Soldier and introducing Black Panther and Spider-Man. Just typing about it makes me want to watch it again.
Doctor Strange is, appropriately enough, a strange entry into the MCU. At its core it’s basically the same story as Iron Man but with magic replacing technology, which I am tempted to mark it down for…but the visual effects were so satisfying that I forget about that every time I watch this film, and the end battle being a clash of wits and not fists was a welcome change from the MCU up to this point. It was a breath of fresh air just when the MCU needed it the most, a promise that the risk taking spirit we saw in some of the earlier films wasn’t gone.
Guardians of the Galaxy 2
Great movie that repeated the first one a bit too much, but overall was a fun time. Didn’t really stick with me the way the rest of the MCU has for some reason, but I don’t remember the last time I laughed this hard at a movie that also hit me in the gut so many times.
Homecoming is not the best Spider-Man film, being overshadowed by Spider-Man 2 before it and Into the Spider-Verse after it. However, Tom Holland is without a doubt the best Spider-Man, being able to do what neither Toby McGuire or Andrew Garfield could do and own both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. The update to his supporting cast was welcome, giving him the best friend of Ned was a delight, and while he was overshadowed by some later film the Vulture’s origin story was compelling and interesting. Also, major props to this film for trusting audiences to remember Spider-Man’s origin story.
When I saw the trailers for Thor: Ragnarok, I’ll admit I was concerned that they were going to turn Thor into a rip off of Guardians of the Galaxy. Instead, what they did was cut out the elements of Thor that didn’t work well and patch the hole with the best parts of the Guardians franchise. The result took the Viking-space-opera of the Thor movies to the next level and gave us Valkyrie, a criminally underappreciated character I desperately hope we get to see more of. I do wish this had been two movies, Ragnarok and Planet Hulk to give both plots more room to breathe, but that’s less of a criticism and more of a preference.
Black Panther was a delight. The blend of MCU weirdness with an afro-futuristic aesthetic was a beautiful thing to behold, the action scenes were some of the best the MCU has put on film, and the supporting cast was phenomenal. I now, as a 32-year-old man, have a strong opinion on the best Disney princess, and she is princess Shuri of Wakanda.
All of that, however, was almost completely overshadowed by Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. Hands down the greatest villain the MCU has delivered with a realistic, human motivation. It’s often said that a good villain believes they are the hero, and Killmonger absolutely sold that narrative like no other previous Marvel villain had managed.
Oh, and T’Challa was in this movie too. I’ll be honest, when I think about this movie, I think of Shuri, Killmonger, and M’Kobo before I think about the titular character. I dunno if that’s a flaw in the movie or praise for the strength of its secondary cast, but it’s just something I’ve noticed. He had a much better character arc in Civil War, but given how good this movie is, I’m sure they’ll find something good for him in the sequel.
Avengers: Infinity War
When big, franchise capstone films are split into two, I always get worried. So often the first film feels like half a movie, awkwardly cut off at the closest approximation to a climax they could manage, with the promise you’ll get the rest of the movie the following year. Avengers: Infinity War beautifully subverted this problem by instead spending the entire movie being a Thanos origin story, giving the primary villain the same loving attention these movies normally reserve for their heroes. You really were able to believe Thanos really did think he was the hero of the story. I honestly can’t say if Killmonger or Thanos is the better villain.
Not that the heroes got shorted. They get a ton of time to let their personalities play off each other, and getting to see the Guardians interact with Thor, Tony and Peter bounce of Strange, and the earthbound Avengers playing off the Wakandans is a real treat. There were also plenty of deeper character moments in the mix, and you really got a feeling for how hopelessly outmatched the heroes were.
Plus, the Snap and everything that came from it was gut-wrenching in ways few things are. I rarely cry at movies barring animal deaths and someone dying while being sung to, which always get the waterworks going, but I have no shame in admitting I wept like a child as characters faded to dust.
I cannot wait to see how this story ends.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Getting to see Evangeline Lilly suit up was the best part of this movie by a long shot, and the visual effects to bring Ghost to life were phenomenal. It was nice to have something fun and lighthearted as a palate cleanser after Infinity War. Overall though, this movie was a mess. Pym Particles became substitutes for magic, the bad guys literally paused the story to exposit for ten minutes – exposition that was interrupted by a phone gag, the rules for the quantum universe were poorly explained, and Ghost and Goliath fell flat as antagonists – so weak the movie felt the need to throw in some random…mobsters? Terrorists? Generic bad guys? I’m still not sure what these guys were supposed to be. It was still miles ahead of most action-comedy films, but after the amazing three movies that preceded it, it felt like a throwback to Phase 2 in all the wrong ways.
I’ve been a fan of Carol Danvers for years, and this was probably my most anticipated MCU movie since it was announced. You can get my full review here, but short version – this movie absolutely delivered everything I wanted and more. The MCU humor was on display, Carol’s powers were a delight to see realized, her arc – yes she had a character arc, it just wasn’t tied to learning her powers the way normal superhero origin story arcs are and that’s perfectly fine – was enjoyable, and getting some fun easter eggs and backstory on more obscure parts of the MCU was a nice treat, all filtered through a 90’s aesthetic I couldn’t get enough of. My one real complaint, the villains, would have bothered me more if Ant-Man and the Wasp hadn’t reminded us how bad Marvel villains could really be.
Haven’t seen it yet. Avoided all spoilers. Just wanted to state that my review for this film will be going up Saturday and it will be 100% spoiler free. Right now, my opinion on this movie is basically the same as a small child’s opinion of Santa on Christmas Eve. Friday, I’ll find out if we got everything I asked for, most of it but some missing pieces, or a big old lump of coal.
Agree or disagree with any of this? Let me know in the comments – although I’m being super careful in my internet usage until I see Endgame to avoid spoilers, so might be slow to respond. Want a good way to pass the time between now and Endgame? Check out Weird Theology. It’s not a Marvel film, but it does have gods, monsters, and people with powers fighting, and isn’t that enough?